A Grandfather’s tale

From Melbourne to Gallipoli and Glasgow — a tale of love and bravery.

For Australia, the First World War remains their costliest conflict.  From a population of five million, 416,809 men enlisted, 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

One of our fundraisers, Ailsa Macmillan, had an Australian grandfather, called James Taylor, who served with the ANZAC forces. He was a 23-year-old carpenter from Melbourne. His diary of the Great War is currently in the ANZAC Museum in his home city.

His experience of the Great War read like the plot of a war movie.

James volunteered for the 1st Machine Gun Battalion on 8th October 1914. He would see action in some of the main theatres of war, be wounded and gassed and ultimately find love on distant shores with a Scots lass.

James embarked on 13th April 1915.  By June, he was at Gallipoli, which he details starkly in his diary: “Flies and dysentery were very bad… we had little water so shaved in tea.” Wounded in the thigh by shrapnel in July 1915, he was sent by Hospital Ship Reiva to Alexandria in Egypt, but, in September, was hospitalised again with the first of two bouts of typhoid.

He was shipped to Marseilles to start training in trench warfare.

James was positioned by Contalmaison village then near Nametz Wood during the Battle of the Somme. He was also at Passchendaele in August 1917 and at Etaples during the German spring offensive in March 1918, where he was gassed – twice.

Repatriated to England, he ended the War as a machinegun instructor. On leave from France in January 1918, James visited cousins in Scotland, including Margaret (Meg) Low, a young Glasgow teacher.  They became engaged but she broke it off.

He was finally demobbed on 16th September 1919 and returned to Australia. James worked his passage back to the UK and this time there was a happy ending as he married Meg before returning to Australia! They were together for more than 60 years until his death in Scotland in 1989, aged 97.

Header image credit: The Battle of the Somme, 1916. ANZAC soldiers wearing sheepskin jackets, and a mixture of slouch hats and steel helmets, resting on their way up to the trenches. © IWM (E(AUS) 19)




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